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Béla Bartók’s 1907 Violin Concerto

Genesis and Fate


Alicja Usarek-Topper

The genesis and genius of Bartók’s Concerto was mingled with his love for Stefi Geyer. As Hungarian Tristan pursuing his Isolde, he sounds allusions to Wagner’s paean of unfulfilled love. In transposing the ideal into the real, Bartók enlists folk sources voicing pristine truths of peasants. While biography and Tristan allusions supply the keys to Stefi’s Concerto, the Tristan grief motif serves as bridge from idealized romance to the pentatonic simplicity of peasant realism. In these tensions private love and public life, and esoteric romance and raw worldliness are provoked and reconciled. The rise and fall of living romance and its musical mirroring against peasant scales and rhythms is background to "Tristan" ruling a score that incites and resolves the clash of two conflicting worlds

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4. Béla and Stefi: An Unendurable Farewell


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4Béla and Stefi: An Unendurable Farewell

The increasingly foreboding content and tone of the letters prepare us unconsciously for the sad and painful closure between the two correspondents. For they reveal the incommensurate relationship between these two lovers, if they are indeed two–one in which Béla adores Stefi but she holds him at arm’s length. And differences of age, education, maturity, and varying stages in their respective careers set up further hurdles. There is the further relative paucity of responses from Stefi. When she does respond, we are rarely privy to her lines, for they have been mostly lost to history. So we must guess, just as Béla for other reasons must too often guess. As a result, in the presence of disguised twists and turns of phrase that displace the speech of pure tone and lucidity, he asks Stefi to write sincerely what she is thinking and feeling. He encourages her to try to define her misgivings in order to preclude the likelihood of misunderstanding, but she appears mostly unable and partly unwilling to recognize the state of their relationship, to explain how and why it is that way.

At least that is what the student of this mostly one-way avenue must conclude: Stefi must have answered Béla’s manifold questions and perhaps with seductive lines full of thrilling duplicity and vagueness. For in the following letter of December 11th, he asks her with some intensity to...

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